Pennsylvania Getting AFSCME Strong

by Carla Insinga and Kevin Zapf Hanes  |  April 24, 2015

Pennsylvania Getting AFSCME Strong More than 100 activists and staff gathered in Harrisburg for AFSCME Strong coaches training, learning the art of the one-on-one conversation and pledging to take the steps to make their locals and district councils AFSCME Strong.

HARRISBURG, Pa. – More than 100 AFSCME Council 13 activists and staff gathered here for AFSCME Strong coaches training, spending two and a half days learning the art of the one-on-one conversation and pledging to take the steps to make their locals and district councils AFSCME Strong.

At the outset, members and council staff walked through the AFSCME Strong coaches training to learn the components of a house call, how to engage members in one-on-one conversations, the importance of PEOPLE and how to reengage members.

“We need to stand together for the strength and future of the labor movement,” said Linda Wise, a 21-year clerk at the Pennsylvania Higher Education Assistance Agency. “If we don’t do this, it will come down to the rich and the poor – the middle class is being torn apart.”

On the second day of training, participants took turns practicing the teaching techniques on one another, preparing themselves to go back to their locals and district councils with the AFSCME Strong message. Following the morning session, 58 teams broke out to hit the doors and put their training to practice, 184 one-on-one conversations. They signed up 94 new activists, got 19 to join the union and signed up 29 new PEOPLE members.

“AFSCME Strong eliminates the complacency that we have seen,” said Shaun Abel, an eight-year veteran diesel mechanic at Pennsylvania Department of Transportation. “This is a good opportunity to dive more into our union and share how important it is to get everyone involved.”

On the third day, members shared stories of conversations on the doors. Acknowledging that it was nerve wracking to knock on the door of a stranger, participants agreed that it got easier because people were excited to have someone from their union show up on their doors. “No one ever asked,” was the common theme. Before leaving, the new coaches developed their plans, mapped their worksites and recommitted themselves to take the campaign to their locals and district councils.

“We are talking to our members, reengaging them in what’s important,” said Dave Fillman, AFSCME Council 13 executive director and also an AFSCME International vice president. “The labor movement, the middle class and Pennsylvania will be stronger for the work that started this week. This is just the beginning.”

Joining Council 13 were 10 staff members from AFSCME DC 37, who were getting a head start on their AFSCME Strong training next week. 

Unions Seek to Derail Fast Track

by Clyde Weiss  |  April 24, 2015

Unions Seek to Derail Fast Track Unionists rally against fast tracking the TPP on April 20, outside the office of the U.S. Trade Representative in Washington, D.C.

Unions are standing up and shouting “hell no!” to a trade agreement that can only be voted up or down, preventing lawmakers from ensuring that good-paying American jobs are not lost to countries offering cheap labor.

The voices of labor are loud and clear. On April 20, hundreds of union members marched from the AFL-CIO to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to press their case against fast-tracking the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade deal with a dozen other countries that make up 40 percent of the world’s economy. AFL-CIO Pres. Richard Trumka, testifying before the Senate Finance Committee, and other national labor leaders joined members of Congress in calling on lawmakers to oppose the deal.

The previous week, on April 15, more than 1,000 union members and allies crowded a park near Capitol Hill to voice their opposition to fast-tracking TPP, which the Obama administration wants to push through Congress on what is known on Capitol Hill as the “fast track.” It is a way of crafting trade deals without allowing members of Congress to amend them before they go into effect, even if they are not in our country’s best interest.

AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders recently explained labor’s opposition to TPP, now being debated in Congress. “We cannot create better trade agreements until we get our priorities straight,” he said. “These priorities should include lifting wages, protecting workers, environmental and safety standards, and enforcing workers’ rights. Unfortunately, TPP will be no different than previous trade agreements that ignore these priorities and approach trade the same old way: by focusing on corporate goals and giving special rights to corporations at the expense of workers and consumers.”

A major union-sponsored advertising campaign coincided with this week’s activities.  “These ads, which follow months of rallies, congressional meetings and unprecedented grassroots activities, will remind politicians that the trade debate is enormously important to working families,” Trumka said.

On April 30, during the AFL-CIO’s annual May Day Rally, union leaders once again will demand that Congress get off the fast track. Help us spread the word. Tell Congress: Stop the fast-track train wreck!

Splash Medics Visit Schoolchildren to Promote Water Safety

by Justin Lee  |  April 23, 2015

Splash Medics Visit Schoolchildren to Promote Water Safety Paramedic Lisa La Russo enjoys a lighthearted “Stewie the Duck” moment with schoolchildren learning about water safety. (Photo by Ivan Hundric)

PERRIS, Calif. — A group of paramedics and EMTs spent the morning of April 21 reading Stewie the Duck to children at Temple Christian School. It was part of their effort to reduce the number of water-related injuries and deaths in Riverside County.

Drowning is a leading cause of death for children under the age of 5 and with education it’s 100 percent preventable, according to Riverside County Injury Prevention Services.  The Local 4911 members who respond to these tragic 911 calls recently launched Splash Medics, a nonprofit organization to promote water safety education.

Paramedic Lisa La Russo, who has provided emergency care for 25 years, said that 911 calls involving children are especially difficult. After responding to a call involving a 9-year old patient last year who nearly drowned in a swimming pool, La Russo was inspired to reach out to her community.

“The number of drownings was higher than I’ve ever seen,” said La Russo. “I contacted officials, and due to funding issues there wasn’t a real program in place to educate the public. That’s when we decided to do something ourselves and get those numbers down.”

Fifteen of La Russo’s coworkers volunteered to participate in upcoming Splash Medic events. Her partner, EMT Victor George was eager to get involved, having responded to several water-related emergencies over the years.

“If there is anything I can do to help curb the number of calls, I want to be a part of it.”

Splash Medics will visit Callie Kirkpatrick Elementary School in Menifee, California, on May 5.

Federal Contract Workers Strike, Demand Living Wages

by Pablo Ros  |  April 22, 2015

Federal Contract Workers Strike, Demand Living Wages Contract workers in federal buildings once again walked out and rallied with supporters on Wednesday as they continue pressing the federal government to raise employment standards. Bertrand Olotara shares his experience. Photographer: Good Jobs Nation

Senate cook: ‘I have to use food stamps so my kids don’t go to bed hungry’

Contract workers in federal buildings, including cooks and janitors, went on strike April 22 to protest low wages, which force many of them to rely on food stamps to feed their families. Though President Obama, through executive order, raised the minimum wage for federal contractors to $10.10, many say it’s not enough.

Bertrand Olotara, a cook who works in the U.S. Senate cafeteria, says he makes $12 an hour and has taken a second job, working 70 hours a week. Yet he has trouble paying rent, buying school supplies for his kids and putting food on the table.

“I hate to admit it, but I have to use food stamps so that my kids don’t go to bed hungry,” he wrote in a powerful opinion piece published in The Guardian.

Olotara says he wants Presidential hopefuls to know that he lives in poverty.

“Many senators canvass the country giving speeches about creating ‘opportunity’ for workers and helping our kids achieve the ‘American Dream’ – most don’t seem to notice or care that workers in their own building are struggling to survive,” he writes.

He also wants elected officials to award federal contracts to “good American companies that pay workers a living wage, offer decent benefits like paid leave and allow us to collectively bargain so that we don’t need to strike to have our voices heard.”

VIDEO: Food for Thought on Union Fair Share Fees

by David Sheeley  |  April 22, 2015

Sometimes complex court rulings can best be understood with the simplest of explanations. Thus it is with a new AFSCME video that uses the analogy of friends going to dinner to puncture the logic of a new court challenge to “fair share” fees.

In the cartoon-style clip, four stick figures vote to choose a restaurant, and three of them pick Applebee’s. After dinner there, the lone dissenter asserts that he doesn’t have to pay because he voted for Sizzler, even though he enjoyed his meal as much as the others. 

“So it is with unions,” the narrator says. “Everyone votes on whether to join and if a majority votes yes, everyone gets the benefits.”

The stick figure show comes as the Supreme Court considers taking up an appeal on the constitutionality of the fees in its May 1 conference.

The appeal challenges a unanimous Supreme Court decision from 1977 that said unions can collect the fees from workers who receive union benefits.

In Friedrichs v. California Teachers Association, a group of teachers argues that paying fees to a union they do not want to belong to is a violation of First Amendment rights.

A win for the anti-union group would be a blow to AFSCME as it fights to negotiate good wages and benefits for workers.

The court ruled in the 1977 case, Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, that when public employees vote to form a union, they can require all workers to share the union representation cost because all of the workers receive the benefits of the union.

Last year, a similar appeal in Harris v. Quinn knocked out fair share fees for nontraditional workplaces, such as home care and child care providers, but the court chose not to overrule Abood v. Detroit Board of Education.

So far, the simple cartoon is cutting through the complexities. In a survey of more than 500 AFSCME members, 81 percent said they better understand what a union fee payer is after watching this video. Check out the video here.  

‘I Found Love in My Union’

by Pablo Ros  |  April 21, 2015

‘I Found Love in My Union’ Can you say: "I found love in my union"? If so, we’d like to hear your story.

Union membership has many benefits. For example, research shows union members are happier with their lives than workers who lack the support and advantages a union provides.

Most of the benefits unions offer are explicit: higher wages, better health care and retirement security, safer working conditions, etc.

But every once in a while, you join a union and something unexpected happens. You find a new passion in life, strike new friendships or fall in love.

Can you say: "I found love in my union"? If so, we’d like to hear and share your story.

Please click here and share your story of how you found love in your union.

We may feature your story in a future edition of AFSCME WORKS magazine.

Rebuild America’s unions to restore its middle class

by Lee Saunders  |  April 21, 2015

Rebuild America’s unions to restore its middle class Saunders: "Labor unions helped to build the middle class, and they can rebuild it. If the extremist politicians really care about working families, they should stop attacking us and make it easier for workers to join unions and bargain collectively."

You can tell it’s springtime. The extremist right-wing politicians who don’t normally give working families the time of day have fallen madly, deeply, head-over-heels in love with us – with talking about us, that is.

Turn on the TV, listen to the radio or read the paper, and you’ll hear variations on the same theme: Ordinary folks are suffering. The middle class is shrinking. We’re having trouble sending our kids to college and paying our bills, to say nothing of our inability to save for retirement.

All of this is true, but coming from the very people who caused this middle-class meltdown, the words are meaningless. And when you try to go beyond their empty platitudes, all you hear is crickets.

It’s easy for them to say that working families matter. And some of them can even muster the courage to finally acknowledge the obvious: Families’ incomes have fallen while corporate profits have reached astronomical heights. The economy has grown since 1980, but average working people haven’t benefited much. In fact, the only people whose incomes have gone up belong to a very exclusive club – the richest 1 percent.

But what the extremist politicians won’t say — at least not on camera — is that their own union-busting policies created the very problems they suddenly see.

In earlier decades, when wages rose in tandem with economic growth, it was largely because the labor movement was robust enough to help people get into — and stay in — the middle class. Through the power of working people coming together in unions and bargaining collectively, unchecked corporate wealth was reined-in and the folks who helped to create that wealth could share in it.

But fewer people are represented by unions today than 100 years ago. That means workers’ voices are weaker and bosses hold most of the cards. This imbalance means they can keep wages artificially low, be stingy with benefits and take advantage of those who work for them. The extremists don’t want us to have a say in our future; they have rigged the game for their benefit and ordinary Americans are suffering the consequences.

We know that if given the option, more people would join unions because they recognize there is strength in solidarity. But the extremist politicians — and the super-wealthy Americans and corporations that support them — recognize this strength, too. So they’ve spent the last several years passing laws in state after state that weaken unions and make it harder for people to join them. It doesn’t matter how these laws are labeled, they all are intended to do one thing: destroy the labor movement.

Fortunately, Connecticut has run counter to this tide. According to federal labor data, in 2013, the state had 207,000 union members, or 13.5 percent of the workforce. In 2014, Connecticut had 231,000 union members or 14.8 percent of the workforce — a net gain of 24,000 new members.

These gains are in part because graduate student workers at the University of Connecticut, nurses and hospital workers in Danbury and New Milford, and many other workers across the state stood up for better wages and working conditions, and joined a union.

Connecticut workers are continuing to stand up, whether it’s fast food and retail workers who recently rallied in New London, or probate court clerks and court officers who came to our state AFSCME organization seeking legislative approval of a bill that would give them the right to unionize.

This is important, because it isn’t only members who benefit from unions. Unions fight for practices that become widespread and establish wages and norms across job categories and industries. One of these norms was pensions. However, as union density fell, the idea that people who work hard every day should be able to retire with dignity has, unfortunately, receded from too many sectors of our economy.

The good news is that none of this is terribly complicated. Labor unions helped to build the middle class, and they can rebuild the middle class. If the extremist politicians really care about working families, they should stop attacking the labor movement and make it easier for workers to join unions and bargain collectively. No more sweet words. It’s time for meaningful action.

Lee Saunders is president of the 1.6-million member American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. This article was originally published in the April 19 edition of The Day, New London, Connecticut.

Remembering Those Who Died Doing What They Loved: Helping Others

by Larry Dorman and Kevin Zapf Hanes  |  April 21, 2015

Remembering Those Who Died Doing What They Loved: Helping Others Every year on April 28, the Connecticut AFL-CIO and AFSCME Council 4 honor those who passed away while working. It is an opportunity to “Mourn for the Dead and Fight for the Living,” Mother Jones’s immortal words that have served as the theme.

Every year on April 28, the Connecticut AFL-CIO and AFSCME Council 4 honor those who passed away while working. It is an opportunity to “Mourn for the Dead and Fight for the Living,” Mother Jones’s immortal words that have served as the theme for the annual AFL-CIO event.

Four members of Council 4 will be added to the memorial this year:

  • Anthony Amato (Local 1303-385, Westport. Foreman at Sewage Treatment Plant. Died in 2015)
  • Eddie Lee Love (Local 818, Bridgeport Housing Authority. Maintenance Foreman. Died in 2014)
  • Iris Maxwell (Local 1716, Hartford Library. Children’s Librarian. Died in 2014)
  • Jorge Soto (Local 1579 Torrington Board of Education. Custodian. Died in 2015).

“We honor those who left this world doing what they loved, helping others,” said Sal Luciano, AFSCME Council 4 executive director and also International vice president. “They served their communities up until their last moments, keeping communities and children safe, literate and clean. Each serves as an example to us and the community that public service isn’t just a job, but a way of life.”

Council 4 will mark the day with a ceremony of remembrance on Tuesday, April 28, 2015, at 10 a.m. (rain or shine) in front of our Workers Memorial Monument at 444 East Main St., New Britain, Connecticut, and honor the memory of all workers who died on the job since Workers Memorial Day 2014.

Last week for National Library Week, Local 1716 member Iris Maxwell was honored by her colleagues. "Iris was a big part of this place. She was so dedicated to the library and to the kids," Angel Aviles, a library assistant and union steward, said.  "We miss her very much."

AFSCME Council 32 Boosts Wisconsin

by David Patterson  |  April 20, 2015

AFSCME Council 32 Boosts Wisconsin ln a historic decision to combine strengths and resources, and focus on building union membership, members of AFSCME Councils 24, 40 and 48 established AFSCME Wisconsin Council 32, in honor of the year AFSCME was born in the state in 1932.

APPLETON, Wis.— ln a historic decision to combine strengths and resources, and focus on building union membership, members of AFSCME Councils 24, 40 and 48 established AFSCME Wisconsin Council 32, in honor of the year AFSCME was born in the state in 1932.

With intense and determined attitudes, delegates to the founding convention quickly got down to serious business at the outset of the three-day event, April 17-19. They adopted a constitution, elected new officers and a new executive board.

“We have come together as unified activists and both the newly elected officers and board members know that job one is building our union,” said Paul Spink, newly elected president of Council 32. “This new council and its members will be bold, determined and action-driven to improve the lives of our members and all working people. The real work starts now.”

Members, local union leaders and council leadership from each of the three former councils worked for more than a year on a plan to form the new council. They were careful to draft a constitution that ensures representation and a voice for members in all work sectors and geographic sections of the state. The new Wisconsin council membership includes state, county and municipal employees, as well as school employees and private-sector workers.

“Everything you’ve done is a model of dedication, and you show all of AFSCME what it means to be committed to our fight. And this moment marks a new start,” AFSCME Pres. Lee Saunders told delegates. “It is both a point of liberation from the past and a catalyst for the future.”

The Man Who Out-Burns Mr. Burns

by Pablo Ros  |  April 20, 2015

Even Mr. Burns of The Simpson’s fame would frown upon John Arnold’s greed.

Arnold is a former Enron executive and Texas hedge fund billionaire who is trying to destroy public pensions across the nation. Feeling secure about his own retirement at 41, he seems determined to make retirement security an elite club for the ultra-rich. From a personal fortune estimated at $2.6 billion dollars, Arnold has spent up to $50 million attacking public workers and the benefits they earn.

Among other things, Arnold has given PBS $3.5 million to produce attacks against public worker pensions and $4.5 million to The Pew Charitable Trusts to fund anti-pension research.

Check out this Simpsons-themed video describing Arnold's pension-slashing plans.

Get news & updates from AFSCME